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Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Dreaded Semicolon; or in my case, The Semicolon, man's greatest invention

Truth be known, I actually know how to properly use a semicolon. But...that doesn't mean I use it correctly as I create.

The semicolon is a punctuation mark used to connect to thoughts of a similar nature. At least that's how I define it. But according to another source, Wikipedia, it is defined as such:

semicolon can be used between two closely related independent clauses, provided they are not already joined by a coordinating conjunction.

Yeah, okay, I get it. Let's agree that thoughts equal independent clauses. And I guess I left out that conjunction thingy. But, all in all, my definition pretty much matches the given definition pretty darn close. Don't you agree?

Here's the thing: When I am creating a rough draft of any manuscript, my mind is going six thousand miles a minute. Typically, I'm a sentence or two ahead of any given point I might be writing. I'm thinking of the next paragraph of narration, or perhaps some snappy dialogue. When it comes times for proper punctuation, I'm like a prize fighter moving in for the kill. Be gone training and technique; away with any sage-like advice. Let's get this over with!

So, I end up with sentences like this:

As he was about to turn back to her, a speck appeared in the sky; far away and falling swiftly to earth. (This line is from my soon to be released novella: WWIV - Darkness Descends.)

Once an editor gets their hands on my material, they love to add a comment just like this: "You are using the punctuation mark, the semicolon as a comma. When you use a semicolon, there needs to be a complete sentence after the mark" (actual wording from the editor of the rough draft).

Yeah, I know. These two thoughts in the sentence are not independent. I've been told this same advice many times over already. In book one and two of the WWIV series, my main editor, Rob Bignell, might have noted this one hundred times. By the tenth time, I think he just took to changing the semicolon into a comma. He's a smart guy.

Here's one that I caught using Grammarly, an Online Grammar checker:

Kate was absent; and that left just the Little Queen and Mara to listen to Raison. 

I most likely would have caught this error in the proofreading stage. This one would have never been seen by an editor. At least that's what I'm telling myself right now. 

With a conjunction in the sentence (and), a semicolon should never see the light of day. But there it was; no sense in denying it. And doesn't even sound correct if I change the semicolon to a comma. In this case, I simply removed the word "and" to make wise use of the punctuation.

Kate was absent; that left just the Little Queen and Mara to listen to Raison. 

Now that I study that sentence closer, there has to be a better way of saying what it is I mean to get across. I think I'll just scratch that one from my rough draft entirely.

Even though I am fast approaching the one million-word mark in my writing career, anyone can plainly see that I have a ways to go before becoming proficient at this trade. With that in mind, I will set out this year to become better at:

1. Using funky punctuation such as the semicolon and the em-dash (--).
2. Learn the proper use of gerunds (was running, were coming). Something to do with cleaning up my tendency to slip into the passive voice, from time to time.
3. Listen to my editors carefully, and depend on these professionals to clean up where I may still fall short.

I am not perfect at anything, much less writing. But this year I will strive to become the best I can; so help me George Orwell. (You can check me on this, but I think I used the semicolon properly in the preceding sentence - there may be hope for me yet)!

Until next week, stay warm everyone!

e a lake

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